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For the hundreds of thousands of refugees worldwide trapped in Protracted Refugee Situations the ability to access decent livelihood opportunities is severely constrained. Legal and policy restrictions in countries of asylum often prevent refugees from accessing formal employment opportunities, credit support, land for agricultural production, and/or restrict their freedom of movement. Despite living in exile for years, even decades, people’s lives are often confined to the boundaries of refugee camps where job opportunities are largely provided by humanitarian aid agencies and where prospects for self-reliance and sustainable livelihoods are inevitably limited. 

Desperate to escape the harsh realities of camp life or violence in their country of origin, many refugees embark on precarious journeys to towns and cities where they hope to find work. Ongoing restrictions to formal employment, however, lead a significant proportion to take up exploitative, unsafe, casual, informal jobs. For the most vulnerable, such as women, children and youth, deepening poverty can also force them into illegal trades such as commercial sex, drug and alcohol sales, which come with heightened protection risks.

A key challenge for international assistance in Protracted Refugee Situations is how to best support host governments in gradually assimilating refugee populations into the labour market and formal economy, as well as providing adequate training and livelihood support to ultimately enhance the self-reliance of camp and urban refugee populations and to prepare refugees for a durable solution in the future.

Credit: Sara Pantuliano (Humanitarian Policy Group)

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